"Lamb of God"
by Wayne L. Derber, Pastor
January 19, 2020 - 2nd Sunday after Epiphany - A
Sermon text: “The next day he (John the Baptist) saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, ‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’” – John 1:29
Two events from the Old Testament
I would like to share with you first
before we consider the gospel reading for today.
The first event is the Passover.
You probably remember how the Hebrews were once slaves in Egypt.
After many years of toiling as slaves,
God sent Moses to free his people.
Pharaoh, of course, was not willing to free the slaves.
So God sent ten plagues upon Egypt…
plagues like water turning to blood, frogs, gnats, locusts,
hail storms of fire, and darkness.
As bad as these plagues were, Pharaoh still would not release the slaves.
So then God sent one final plague that did convince Pharaoh –
the death of the firstborn in each family.
However, God told the Hebrew slaves
to have each family kill a lamb
and smear the lamb’s blood around the outside of their doors.
Then when the Angel of Death moved through Egypt
killing the oldest of each family,
it would see the lamb’s blood around the door of these houses
and “pass over” these homes,
sparing the eldest of each family.
So each Hebrew family killed a lamb that night
and smeared its blood around the outside of the door.
Then the Angel of Death passed over these homes.
Because of the blood of a lamb around their doors
the Hebrew slaves were saved.
Jews to this day celebrate this Passover Meal…
remembering how their ancestors were saved long ago
when lambs’ blood
caused the Angel of Death to pass over their homes.
A second event from the Old Testament that I want to emphasize
comes from the book of Leviticus.
You probably are familiar with the word “scapegoat”
and probably know the meaning of this word.
A scapegoat is someone who gets blamed for something
that really was the fault of others.
But you might not be aware that the word “scapegoat”
actually comes from the Bible.
The word “scapegoat” in the Bible actually refers to real goat.
In the Bible a scapegoat was a live goat
over whose head Aaron confessed all the sins of the people
once a year, on the Day of Atonement.
The goat, symbolically bearing all of their sins,
was then sent out into the wilderness.
The book of Leviticus describes it this way:
“But the goat on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat
shall be presented alive before the Lord,
to make atonement upon it,
and to let it go as the scapegoat into the wilderness.
Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat,
confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel,
and all their transgressions, concerning all their sins,
putting them on the head of the goat,
and shall send it away into the wilderness…
The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities
to an uninhabited land…” (Leviticus 16:10, 21-22a NKJV).
Of course, there was nothing magical about this goat
that it could take away all the sins of the people.
The goat only symbolized what God was actually doing…
taking far away the guilt of all of their sins.
In the book of Psalms, God’s forgiveness is described this way:
“…as far as the east is from the west,
so far he removes our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12).
So we have these two important events from the Old Testament:
the blood of slaughtered lambs smeared around doors
causing the Angel of Death to pass over
the homes of the Hebrew slaves;
and the sins of the people symbolically being placed
on a scapegoat
who carried the sins far away into the desert.
Keep both of these events in mind
as we now consider our gospel reading for today.
Our gospel reading begins with the words:
“John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and declared:
‘Here is the Lamb of God
who takes away the sin of the world!’
When John’s original audience heard John describe Jesus
as the “Lamb of God”
they probably thought of how the blood of the Passover lambs
had saved their ancestors.
And when they heard John say that Jesus
would take away the sin of the world
they probably thought of how a scapegoat
would symbolically take far away all the sins of the people.
Now, I imagine that many of the people probably did not really believe
that Jesus was the “Lamb of God”
and they probably did not really believe
that Jesus could take away all the sins of the people,
but at least they had some understanding
about what John was claiming about Jesus.
The people believed that only God had the power to forgive sins,
so the idea that this man Jesus could take away their sins
must have seemed scandalous to them.
You probably remember the time when four friends
lowered a lame man down through the roof of a house
so that he could be close to Jesus (Mark 21-12).
Jesus said to the lame man: “Son, your sins are forgiven.”
Some of the religious leaders there were shocked and said,
“Why does this fellow speak in this way?
It is blasphemy!
Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
“Why do you raise such questions?...
Which is easier, to say… ‘Your sins are forgiven’
or to say ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk?’
But so you may know that the Son of Man
has authority on earth to forgive sins” –
he said to the paralytic –
“I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.”
And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out…”
So Jesus certainly did prove that he had both the power and authority
to forgive sins.
Of course, first we have to admit that we are sinners…
we have not loved God with all our heart…
we have not loved our neighbors as we love ourselves…
we have sinned in thought, word, and deed…
by what we have done
and by what we have left undone.
One doesn’t have to read very far into the Bible
to learn that we people are sinners.
God told Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit
of the tree in the middle of the garden.
Of course, eating the forbidden fruit was exactly what they did.
Do you remember what Adam and Eve did
immediately after eating forbidden fruit?
They hid from God.
At least, they attempted to hide from God.
Of course, it is impossible to really hide from him.
God knows all and sees all.
But Adam and Eve attempted to hide from him.
Then when God found and confronted them
about eating the forbidden fruit,
Adam blamed Eve for offering him the fruit,
and Eve in turned blamed the snake
who she said had tricked her.
In short, Adam and Eve both passed the buck.
They tried to blame someone else for what they had done wrong.
Adam and Eve’s story is our story.
Of course, we too have disobeyed God.
And, of course, we too have tried to hide our sins from God.
And, of course, we too have tried to blame others for our mistakes.
I am reminded of the Bible story of King David and Bathsheba.
David committed adultery with Bathsheba
and then had her husband killed
so that he could marry her.
David was king, after all,
and probably thought he could do as he pleased.
He was in denial about his sin
until the prophet Nathan came and confronted him.
Then David finally realized that he had done very wrong.
The Bible tells us that David wrote the 51st Psalm
shortly after admitting his crime to Nathan.
In this psalm, David wrote:
“Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me” (Psalm 51:1-3).
“Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).
Finally, David was very remorseful for his sins.
After he confessed his sin to God,
tradition has it that David wrote the 32nd Psalm as well.
In this psalm, David wrote:
“Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered” (verse 1).
“While I kept silence, my body wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.
Then I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not hide my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
and you forgave the guilt of my sin” (verses 3-5).
I once saw in a church newsletter the quote:
“Quit griping about your church;
if it was perfect, you couldn’t belong.” – from the Newsletter Newletter
This is true, of course.
Any church isn’t perfect because we are all sinners.
The Apostle Paul once put it this way:
“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)
“All have sinned…”
“All…” including you and me.
So what can we do with our sins?
We can deny them…
try to hide them.
But all these attempts will not work.
There is only one way to deal with the guilt of our sins –
to bring them to Jesus,
“the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
On a cross, Jesus the Lamb of God,
was slaughtered like a Passover lamb…
a lamb whose blood would save the people.
And on a cross, Jesus the Lamb of God,
was like a scapegoat,
taking upon himself the sins of the world
and carrying that guilt far away.
Isaiah once prophesied about Jesus:
“But he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities…
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have all turned to our own way,
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter…” (Isaiah 53:5-7b).
You probably have seen a picture of the famous painting
done by Matthias Grünewald showing the crucifixion of Jesus.
Grünewald’s painting shows Jesus on a cross
and also a lamb at the foot of that cross.
John the Baptist is shown standing next to the cross
and pointing at Jesus.
Near John’s head are printed the words
that John spoke long ago:
“Behold the Lamb of God
who takes away the sin of the world.”
Our gospel reading for today is from the gospel of John.
It is only in this gospel that Jesus is referred to as “the Lamb of God.”
The gospel writer of John is not so much interested
in giving us factual truths about the life of Jesus
as he is in giving us spiritual truths about Jesus.
In John’s gospel, the Last Supper is actually eaten
before the beginning of the Passover.
So here’s the scene in John’s gospel.
The day before the Passover is the day when all lambs are slaughtered.
All the Jews go to the Temple
to get their lambs killed for the Passover meal.
In Jerusalem this would have meant
thousands of lambs being slaughtered,
all at one time.
And in John’s gospel, this is the day on which Jesus is crucified.
So this dramatic scene has Jesus hanging on the cross
at the very same time that thousands of lambs
are being slaughtered in the Temple for the Passover meal.
John’s point here about Jesus is obvious:
“Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
In John’s gospel, Jesus doesn’t eat a Passover meal,
he is the Passover meal…
the lamb that would be slaughtered
and whose blood would save his people.
Yes, we are sinners.
But in Jesus Christ, we have the Lamb of God
who takes away the sin of the world.
Thanks be to God that we sinners
have the guilt of our sins taken away by Jesus,
the one who is…
the Lamb of God.